Iraqi officials and academics praised Saudi Arabia's appointment of a non-resident ambassador to Iraq and expressed hope that the step will "represent the start of a new phase of strong bilateral relations between Baghdad and Riyadh at the diplomatic, political and economic levels".
On February 20th, Saudi Arabia announced that Fahad Abdul Muhsin al-Zaid, the ambassador to Jordan, will become a non-resident ambassador in Baghdad.
Al-Zaid is the first Saudi ambassador to Iraq in more than 21 years. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were cut off following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
"The step Riyadh has taken opened the door for the return of normal relations between the two countries, and it will pave the way for a new phase of bilateral co-operation and an exchange of visits," said Labeed Abbawi, deputy minister at Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"Iraq views this step as being extremely positive, especially since it coincided with the preparations Baghdad is making to host the Arab Summit and also serves as a rebuttal to all of the allegations that claimed there had been a decline in Iraqi-Gulf relations that would reflect negatively on the scale of participation by Gulf countries at the summit meeting," he told Mawtani.
On March 29th, Baghdad will host the Arab League summit conference, the first major international event inside the country since 2003. It will be the third Arab League summit held in Baghdad, following the two previous times in 1978 and 1990.
"Saudi Arabia is a neighbouring, brotherly country that occupies a major position within the Arab and Gulf political system," Abbawi said. "We are interested in normalising relations because that would help the two countries to settle all outstanding issues between them and establish a foundation to set up the basis for joint co-operation in all political, diplomatic, economic and security fields."
"An Iraqi security delegation headed by Falih al-Fayyadh, the national security advisor, visited Riyadh a few days ago and held important meetings with Saudi officials dealing with issues of mutual interest including Saudi detainees in Iraq and ways to support efforts aimed at fighting terrorism," he said.
Abbawi said the visit "will soon be followed by another visit by Hassan al-Shammary, the Iraqi Minister of Justice, to reach agreement on the exchange of prisoners and detainees with Riyadh".
Sami al-Askeri, a member of the Iraqi parliament's foreign relations committee, told Mawtani, "Saudi Arabia's appointment of a non-resident ambassador to Iraq is a positive message on the part of the Saudi brothers."
He called on Riyadh to re-open its embassy in Baghdad as a complementary step to appointment of the ambassador.
Iraq opened its embassy in Riyadh in February 2007, and Saudi Arabia, at the time, expressed its intention to re-open its embassy in Baghdad as soon as the security situation in Iraq improved.
Al-Askeri said there are "numerous outstanding issues with Saudi Arabia that require mutual contacts through political and diplomatic channels and frequent meetings between the two sides at the highest levels to find satisfactory solutions for those issues".
He said the issues include outstanding Saudi loans and compensation to Iraq that have not been cancelled; prisoners in both countries; border security; an exchange of security and intelligence information; and strengthening bilateral economic activity.
Abdul Rahman Najim, a professor of economics at al-Mustansiriya University, told Mawtani, "Any diplomatic and political rapprochement between Baghdad and Riyadh will reflect positively on the level of development of economic ties that bind the two countries."
"Saudi Arabia is considered one of 20 countries which carry substantial weight in the world economic market. Its economy no longer depends solely on oil exports, which represent a mere 26% of its overall annual revenues, since there are other industrial, agricultural, and trade activities," he said.
"Rapprochement with the kingdom would allow Iraq to benefit by concluding mutual economic agreements and expanding the volume of bilateral trade, which is now valued at $10 billion a year with all Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia," he said.